I went to the beach for the weekend.
Last year, after years of prevaricating, my wife and I bought ourselves a retreat place, near the beach, but set right alongside a forest —in fact a national park.
It is such a blessing. Here, within minutes of arriving, I am just so relaxed.
The bush setting is so peaceful.
A group of kookaburras come to visit us every day. So too do a range of other native birds, including Eastern Rosellas, and several king parrots, which are so tame they will eat seed right from my hand.
These are special delights.
In the trees, right outside, are so many other birds as well: tiny ones, flitting from leaf to leaf, as well as many larger ones.
I recall the first time I woke in this house, thinking ‘This is like waking up inside an aviary.’
But it was also hot, and so we went to the beach, surfing.
The waves, at Fairhaven beach, on Satruday and Sunday, were the best I have surfed in for a long, long time. My wife and I use ‘boogie boards’, and we were just belting in, faster than ever I can recall.
We had a really wonderful time. I want to reflect on that.
‘Wonderful’ is a word we use too easily, without realising that so many good experiences are indeed filled with wonder.
For many Australians, the beach is in fact a place of wonder.
Much of the work done on an Australian spirituality has focussed on the bush, or the wilderness, the desert. Of course, there is a rich tradition to draw upon for a spirituality of the desert.
But there is also a spirituality of the beach.
The beach is a liminial place, a place where we are on the edge of something.
The sea can be for us a metaphor or indeed a dynamic symbol of deeper realities. The waves offer us a hint of the eternal. They never cease: but neither are they simply continuous, in a boringly predictable sense. They keep coming, but in all sorts of patterns – except that just when you think you’ve picked the pattern, it changes. You just have to be ready for the next big one, and go with it!
At the beach, we are on the edge. To be comfortable here is itself a challenge. Here, in various senses, we are undressed. People expose more of their bodies than they do elsewhere. For some, this is easy, for others, a bit uncomfortable. But this is a metaphor for engaging with the whole experience. We go into the water, and we are surrounded, immersed in something bigger, more powerful, more demanding, and not all that predictable. And that’s exactly when and how it is so much fun.
We are drawn into a reality beyond us. We move beyond the uncomfortable. We enjoy our bodies and our connectedness with the elements. We swim, float, dive, ride, splash, crash even: and in all, we have fun.
We get in touch with the inner child. We enjoy friends, and we also ‘meet’ people who are in this with us, even though we may not speak.
Immersed in the surf, we engage with and embrace the reality of our lives, with their highs and lows, changing tides, seasons, patterns. We share vulnerability: yes, here we are exposed to the burning sun, and the wind and the surf. It can be dangerous, it can kill you. But here also we sense that we belong; we belong with nature. We belong with our creator, whose presence is known in water, wind and light.
There is a rich spirtuality in this experience. For me, this is one form of the spirituality of place.